Let’s resolve to make it a real Happy New Year

Improving the bottom line on our gross national happiness in 2013

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if world leaders resolved to look at life in a different light this New Year? They could follow the example of Bhutan. In 1971, the small country, nestled in the Himalayas between China and India, rejected the idea of gross domestic product as the measure of progress. Instead, leaders focused on gross national happiness.

The idea is finally gaining traction around the world, and I’m humbled and pleased to be involved with a global initiative to promote it. World leaders took the concept seriously enough to hold a United Nations Conference on Happiness in April 2012, and Bhutan was recognized for its environmental leadership at the recent UN climate summit in Doha, Qatar.

Life isn’t perfect in Bhutan. It’s a poor country where most homes don’t have electricity. Crime is increasing and climate change is making life difficult for the farmers who provide much of the landlocked country’s food. Still, according to the Guardian, life expectancy in Bhutan has doubled over the past 20 years, almost all children now go to primary school and the country has been improving its infrastructure.

Bhutan has also enshrined environmental protection and intergenerational equity in its constitution. The Right to a Healthy Environment is another initiative I’m excited about. The David Suzuki Foundation and I have been working with environmental lawyer and professor David R. Boyd and Ecojustice to promote the idea in Canada. Boyd’s book, The Right to a Healthy Environment: Revitalizing Canada’s Constitution, offers a wonderful analysis of where the world’s nations now stand on the concept, as well as strong arguments for why Canada should join the more than 140 nations that have put environmental protection in their constitutions.

Caring for the environment can help achieve gross national happiness in many ways – by giving our children a more secure future, improving human health, ensuring resources are available to meet the needs of citizens, offering recreational and spiritual connections with nature and giving people a sense of pride and respect for the natural systems that keep us alive and healthy.

There’s more to happiness than just having a clean environment – and Bhutan has yet to get there. According to research for the UN Conference on Happiness, “The happiest countries in the world are all in Northern Europe (Denmark, Norway, Finland, Netherlands).” Although these countries are wealthy, the study points out that money isn’t the only factor, as happiness is decreasing in countries like the U.S. “Political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are together more important than income in explaining well-being differences between the top and bottom countries,” the researchers write. “At the individual level, good mental and physical health, someone to count on, job security and stable families are crucial.” Note that the happiest countries all have healthy economies and robust social programs.

We can also look at how various countries responded to the recent economic crisis. Those that bailed out banks and reduced social spending are facing the same kinds of problems as before. Iceland approached its massive financial meltdown in a way that was pretty much the opposite of that taken by the U.S. and Europe, refusing to rescue its banks and increasing social spending, among other measures.

Iceland still has problems, but it has recovered faster than other nations, and its social safety net remains strong. Inequality has been reduced, and the crisis spurred citizens to propose and develop a new constitution, which is being considered by parliament.

There’s an old saw that says the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. In the case of leaders who focus almost entirely on economic growth and corporate interests, it’s a recipe for disaster. As George Monbiot recently wrote in the U.K.’s Guardian, “In return for 150 years of explosive consumption, much of which does nothing to advance human welfare, we are atomising the natural world and the human systems that depend on it.”

As light gradually returns to the north and we celebrate a season of sharing, our leaders could brighten all our lives by considering what really makes our societies strong, healthy and happy.

I wish you all good health and happiness for the holiday season.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Revelstoke SAR crews help find woman’s body around Kaslo River

The woman was on a motorcycle when it plunged into the river on June 21

RCMP identify dangerous driver from near head-on collision by Golden

Police say the extremely dangerous and illegal maneuver put multiple lives at risk

Hitchhiker with metal pipe prompts RCMP to close of Highway 1 near Salmon Arm

Police respond to report of man who pointed what was believed to be a rifle at passing driver

Local Food Initiative wants public feedback for possible Garden Tour

Survey suggests some people are concerned about the RCMP, after last year’s tour

MP Morrison pushes for accountability following federal fiscal update

Kootenay-Columbia parliamentarian says it is time to restart the economy

Recent surge in COVID-19 cases not unexpected amid Phase Three of reopening: B.C.’s top doc

Keep circles small, wear masks and be aware of symptoms, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

Lake Country beachgoers reminded to maintain distance amid COVID-19

Signage, park rangers, park patrol students in place to monitor busy beaches in Central Okanagan

RCMP to investigate hate-motivated vandalism in Summerland

Swastikas and other graffiti spray painted on house and at bandshell

Statistical flaws led to B.C. wolf cull which didn’t save endangered caribou as estimated

Study finds statistical flaws in an influential 2019 report supporting a wolf cull

Baby raccoon rescued from 10-foot deep drainage pipe on Vancouver Island

‘Its cries were loud, pitiful and heartbreaking,’ Saanich animal control officer says

Vancouver Island RCMP respond to reports of man masturbating on bus

52-year-old man charged with committing an indecent act in a public place

B.C. man who went by ‘Doctor Ray Gaglardi’ charged with sex assault of teenage boys

The man, 75, is accused of assaulting teenage boys he met through Coquitlam-area churches

B.C.’s potential deficit $12.5 billion as spending spikes, taxes drop

Finance Minister Carole James gives COVID-19 outlook

Rare comet NEOWISE and aurora lights captured in Okanagan

The image was captured over Big Horn Lake near Kelowna with a Pixel 4XL android phone

Most Read